Memories were on special offer recently at the Beltane Summer Synergy Session. Creating more interactive opportunities with history has been a key theme of the local digital and social media projects that have formed and interlinked as a partnership around the social history of Wester Hailes. The Code Books, the Totem Pole, From There To Here’s blog and facebook page have all benefited from being interconnected through the partnership Our Place In Time. The new Digital Sentinel will similarly gain from originating from this local partnership’s framework and experience as it develops.
Through Ladders To The Clouds, local organisations and residents worked with the University of Edinburgh and Heriot Watt University to develop an interactive approach utilising in particular QR codes as a way of linking the past to the present through images that could be reached by scanning the QR codes. The images are photos depicting life in Wester Hailes over the years, but they also represent memories and stories. Some of the QR codes link to particular sites such as the From There To Here facebook page where people can add their own thoughts and memories about what they are seeing. Over the last couple of years this has built up a complex and rich picture of Wester Hailes past and present that often challenges the negative portrayals and on-going stigma associated with the area.
The university partners were asked to share information about this approach this week at an event organised by the Beltane Public Engagement Network and they invited Our Place In Time to join them at the event and be part of the presentation. With the theme of the session being a market place showcasing best practice, the group decided to offer an actual stall laden with memories to demonstrate how it all worked. Visitors to the stall were asked to pick an apple and scan a code that linked them to an image taken from the Sentinel community newspaper archive. So what was an apple became for example a bus! Other codes on the stall replicated the sites that are on the Totem Pole.
The stall generated a lot of interest from other projects wanting to know more about using social and digital media to generate engagement with the information they wanted to promote. The event also gave the group a great opportunity to network with a diverse range of organisations and projects from across the city and to learn from other examples of good practice.
This week we’re going back 32 years to June 1981. The headline story featured the news that an independent inquiry into the building of Wester Hailes had been ordered by the District Council. Other stories included
- Tartan Majorettes First Major Trophy
- A report on unemployment in Wester Hailes compared to Edinburgh as a whole
- Festival 1981 and Festival news
- News From Around The Areas
- Sounds Around’s review of the Scars gig.
You’ll find all these stories and more by clicking here on Sentinel June 1981.
“Every community needs its own Sentinel.”
This was the conclusion of the Rep Council, reflecting on 20 years of the Sentinel in 1996. Over the last few years, we have regularly looked at the role theSentinel played within Wester Hailes in bringing together the community, representing its voice, and encouraging democratic participation. The Sentinel operated through print only during its lifetime but this was in common with many printed publications, and also reflected the relative lack of internet access within people’s homes in Wester Hailes even when the internet was growing in use as a media tool. However, if the Sentinel was being set up today, it would undoubtedly have an online presence. Over the last few months, an exciting new project, the Digital Sentinel has been developing to establish a community news website for Wester Hailes, written and edited by local residents. A series of workshops has been enabling people to start gaining skills and experience in how to use a variety of formats such as Youtube and Flickr, uploading their stories, news and views using a range of digital technology.
Now the emerging news agency has been recognised by the Carnegie UK Trust’s Neighbourhood News with a grant of £10,000. It is only one of five projects to receive funding after facing strong competition, and the only project to be awarded funding in Scotland. WHALE Arts Agency is leading on this project, representing a collaboration of organisations in Wester Hailes including Wester Hailes Health Agency, Prospect Community Housing, Wester Hailes Time Bank and the Wester Hailes Community Council. Together they have been working with academic research partners on providing access to online social history archives using QR codes, blogs and Facebook sites. It is one of a suite of projects under the banner “Our Place in Time” using digital media to provide access to archives and to tell the stories of Wester Hailes today. The funding will enable further training to support the recruitment and development of citizen journalists to take the project forward.
The Digital Sentinel may turn out to look very different from the old printed paper but it will be firmly connected to the values associated with the original publication. The experience of the Sentinel shows that above all, community news needs to be independent, locally based and locally accountable. It is great news that the new Digital Sentinel will continue in this tradition in its aspiration to be community led, with residents trained as citizen reporters and content managed by community editors. The news will be produced by people within the community, with their own particular perspective. They will be able to cover stories that are not of interest to larger news agencies and with the hope of reversing the trend for negative media representation of Wester Hailes that continues to be an issue in sections of the press. And at the heart of the project will be the aim to continue the high ethical standards that the printed Sentinel set in its efforts to act as a unifying voice.
After we blogged last year about the history of the Fun Run in Wester Hailes, a group of organisations and residents decided it was time to bring this popular event back to the area. The 2012 Fun Run was a great success despite some torrential rain, with a great range of people turning out to run despite the terrible weather conditions!
This year the 2013 Fun Run is taking place on Sunday 16th June starting at 10.00am in Hailes Quarry Park. The route is still 5k, and you can run, walk or jog, it’s up to you! Completed entry forms have to be returned by Friday 7th June. The route includes a large part of the old route that used to be used, including the infamous Greenway hill, but most competitors manage to climb it, and there’s a water station at Clovenstone Community Centre for those who need a breather!
If you would like to know more, please contact Caroline Richards on 0131 272 5025 or you can download the entry form here.
“One of the saddest things about unemployment is the number of young people involved. These young people with their abundant energy and fresh ideas have much to contribute to society and it is society that must suffer from this present crisis.”
Unemployment amongst young people in the UK continues to be a cause for concern as the country faces difficult economic times and the on-going effects of austerity measures. However, these words were written 35 years ago by the Chair of the Wester Hailes Youth Opportunity Programme as the WHYOP was launched. He went on to say
“Wester Hailes has never been slow to face up to its responsibilities and is proving true to form in this new venture which offers young people an alternative to the dole queue.”
Whilst youth training programmes attracted their fair amount of critics, Wester Hailes seemed to find creative ways to provide placements, training and improved community services. The scheme was able to offer placements for example with the Sentinel, the community café and a recycling project. From an early stage the project took a holistic approach, recognising that some young people needed a broader range of training including life skills to become fully equipped for work. This inevitably raised the project’s costs but enabled the scheme to have a more positive and permanent impact for the young people involved. Over its lifetime it had a 95% success rate with its trainees and was regarded as one of the most successful projects of its kind.
When the Youth Opportunity Programme was replaced by the Youth Training Scheme, the programme in Wester Hailes was adapted to meet the new requirements. In 1988, the Sentinel reported on 10 years of the Wester Hailes YTS. During that time nearly 400 young people had benefited from being involved. It was also one of the longest running voluntary YTS group in the country. It also specialised in working with young people who found it difficult to access mainstream training, providing additional support and training to ensure they could take up training opportunities. You can read more about their success story here.
The project got to a stage when it really needed new premises and in 1990, the Sentinel reported on the on-going tussle with the Wester Hailes Partnership over the promised funding that had yet to materialise. When Malcom Rifkind visited the YTS, the manager took the opportunity to raise the issue with him, with the matter being reported in the paper.
In 1992, the scheme faced its biggest challenge, which sadly proved to be its last. The main funding came from Lothian and Edinburgh Enterprise Ltd. When the government made cuts to their funding, those cuts were passed on making the YTS unsustainable. In April 1992 it was announced that the YTS would close. The Sentinel paid tribute to all the scheme’s achievements and pointed out the many ways that the wider community had benefited from the support and activities of the YTS trainees.
Early photos of Wester Hailes are dominated by the high rise blocks separated by wide seas of concrete and tarmac. The green spaces that were included were certainly spacious but were not usable public space and sometimes seemed barren and arbitrary in design. Efforts to keep pedestrians away from traffic without consulting on where residents actually needed pedestrian routes simply resulted in people using the grass verges or crossing the roads at sometimes dangerous points rather than following official paths.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the work and legacy of the Wester Hailes Partnership Group which oversaw an ambitious programme of development for the area. Part of its strategy included improving local green spaces and addressing a number of environmental issues affecting the area including pedestrian routes, roadside footpaths and increasing the number of trees and plants in the area.
In 1990 the Sentinel devoted a double page spread to the Greenway Improvement Scheme. Forming the pedestrian “backbone” of Wester Hailes, it was supposed to be a 20th century Royal Mile for the area, linking housing with local facilities and services. But lack of investment and minimal maintenance had led to the route being underused due to concerns about safety. Public consultation had shown that the top priorities for improvement were lighting, repaving and new planting. Plans for upgrading the route included new junctions and focal points as well as redesigning the paths.
This scheme was one of a number of environmental projects that were aimed at improving the area in particular through creating more distinctive accessible green spaces that linked neighbourhoods rather than separated them. The Wester Hailes Land Use Unit reported on progress in the 1992 Representative Council Annual Report. Environmental improvements included roadside and boundary planting aimed at “greening” Wester Hailes and developing a plan for roadside footpaths. Over the next couple of years an extensive planting programme was put into action resulting in thousands of additional plants and trees for the area.
The Land Use Unit also developed a proposal to employ an Urban Environmental Ranger. This proposal was submitted to the Urban Aid panel with the application being successful. This project was the first of its kind with the Ranger engaged in a variety of projects with local children and young people. The Ranger worked with schools and neighbourhood councils encouraging local residents to become involved in litter picking, planting and other environmentally focused projects. A Wildlife Club for children was also established for children to learn more about the environment through games and activities. A regular column Environmental Outlook written by the Ranger featured in the Sentinel for several years during the 1990s.
Is Wester Hailes now greener than it was? With Spring finally arriving, now would be a good time for residents to judge for themselves. Last year the increased use of tarmac in the area was raised at a Wester Hailes Community Council meeting with concern being expressed that trees and shrubs are being cut back or removed and replaced by areas of tarmac as have some areas of grassland. The issue is not clear cut however, with some residents indicating that they preferred this to overgrown shrubs and the associated issues such as rubbish and blocked paths. Yet with so much work and investment over the years being put into developing Wester Hailes’ green space it seems a shame that this might now be in danger of being reduced. Last year the City of Edinburgh Council published a report, the first of its kind in Scotland that estimated the value of Edinburgh’s trees in absorbing carbon dioxide, thus reducing pollution. The 600,000 trees across the city are estimated to have an economic value in removing airborne pollution of around £2.3 million. Announcing the report, Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish Government’s Environment & Climate Change Minister commented
“Urban trees, together with community woods, parks and green spaces are the lungs of our Capital.”
The trees planted back in the early 1990s in Wester Hailes are playing their part in reducing pollution. Hopefully, they will be able to carry on this role for a long time yet as well as bringing a wealth of other environmental benefits to the community. In 1993 the Environment Outlook column explained that many of the newly planted trees were native Scottish species, trees that would have been growing in the area if the land had not been cleared. As shown below, the column gave information about the trees and some of the folklore associated with them.
With the acres of footage and newsprint currently documenting the life and times of a certain ex-prime minister, it seemed fitting to check whether the Sentinel with its fantastic ability of scooping interviews with major politicians had ever come face to face with Mrs Margaret Thatcher. It appears though that the picture shown here on the front page from September 1988 was not the result of an interview or encounter. Whilst efforts were made, the Sentinel reported in its 100th edition that she had declined the invitation, with the indication that she confined interviews almost entirely to “foreign newspapers”.
Wester Hailes is only 43 years old as a community and so much of its early and formative history is inevitably tied up with Mrs Thatcher’s ideology and her government’s policies during 1979-1990. In October last year we looked at the results of the Fowler review brought in during Mrs Thatcher’s leadership in 1986, and what the changes in the welfare reform system would mean to Wester Hailes when implemented. Whilst many of the government’s policies were well supported by some in society nationally, the effects in areas like Wester Hailes could be seen across the front pages of the Sentinel as the local situation was documented over the months and years. In April 1987 for example, the Sentinel led with the headline “Breadline Britain”, featuring several stories that demonstrated the rise in poverty within Wester Hailes.
Despite Mrs Thatcher’s reluctance to speak to a community newspaper, other politicians of the day were not so reticent and the Sentinel carried interviews with key national politicians including Neil Kinnock, David Steel, Norman Tebbit, Tony Benn, George Younger and David Owen. This editorial policy meant that local residents could read the views of national decision makers and just as importantly, it gave an opportunity to promote a positive view of the Wester Hailes community to people who may only have known about the area otherwise through more sensationalist press headlines.
Whilst we cannot bring you an exclusive Sentinel interview with Mrs Thatcher, we can feature two major politicians who were in parliament throughout her time in office. It would be fair to say they were at different ends of the political spectrum on most issues but this is probably fitting as whatever everyone’s views are on Mrs Thatcher, she certainly provoked debate.
The first interview is with Tam Dalyell in 1985 who had visited Wester Hailes to give a talk about his views on the Falklands War. The second interview is with Malcom Rifkind. Mr Rifkind gave several interviews to the Sentinel over the years. As we have just finished a series on the Wester Hailes Partnership, the featured interview is during 1988 when news of the new urban renewal plans was being launched.